China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday in the global coronavirus pandemic and started to publish the daily change in cases that are free of symptoms, although the latter could complicate the picture of trends in the disease.
Almost all of Tuesday's 36 new cases involved arrivals from overseas, the National Health Commission said, down from 48 a day earlier, and taking total infections to 81,554.
But that figure excludes 130 new sufferers of the highly contagious disease who do not show symptoms, statistics from the health authority showed.
Some other countries include cases that test positive for the virus but display no symptoms in the tally of confirmed cases, in line with advice from the World Health Organization.
China must "build a solid line of defence against the risks of overseas epidemic", and allow no loopholes, President Xi Jinping said in comments published on Wednesday.
In his remarks during a visit to the eastern province of Zhejiang, Xi also urged better management of symptom-free cases.
Users of Chinese social media have expressed fear that carriers with no symptoms could be spreading the virus unknowingly, especially as authorities ease curbs on travel for previous hotspots in the epidemic, now that infections have subsided.
Last week, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a conference in Geneva that symptomatic patients were the main drivers of transmission in the majority of cases, while most of those classified as asymptomatic developed symptoms a few days after diagnosis.
But China has now decided to devote greater screening to asymptomatic sufferers and those in contact with them.
By Tuesday, 1,367 asymptomatic cases were under observation, down from 1,541 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
Seven deaths from the virus were reported on Tuesday, up from just one the day before. All but one were in the central province of Hubei, where the outbreak began late last year.
A single new local infection was reported in the southern province of Guangdong.
Although the tally of imported cases, at 806, is just a small fraction of overall cases, authorities fearing a second wave of infection have barred entry to most foreigners and ordered tougher checks on citizens returning from abroad.
HUBEI AND WUHAN RESURGENCE
Life in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, the epicentre of the now global pandemic, is slowly returning to normal as the government eases a more than two-month-long lockdown.
In Hubei, 93.8% of companies have resumed operation while in Wuhan 85.4% are back in business, Hubei's National Development and Reform Commissions (NDRC) vice director Xie Gaobo said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
Xie added that for the next stage, the focus be on studying measures that can help companies return to full capacity. Business surveys this week showed domestic demand remains weak and export orders are plunging as more countries impose strict lockdowns and other anti-virus measures.
Meanwhile, China also is taking further steps to support hard hit small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The bar for loan applications from small start-ups will be lowered, the vice president of People’s Bank of China (PBOC) Wuhan branch Wang Bing said, adding that these enterprises can apply for up to 3 million yuan ($423,000) of credit.
"For virus-hit SMEs, repayment on loans and interests can be delayed till June 30," Wang added.
As of March 31, banks in Hubei have issued 30.299 billion yuan in cheap loans to such companies, he said.
Hubei, which will see 450,000 fresh graduates this year, has the "relatively heavy" task of safeguarding employment, the vice director of Hubei's Department of Education, Zhang Jinyuan, said.
Zhang added that online recruitment was being rolled out, state-owned enterprises and SMEs were being encouraged to hire more Hubei graduates and rules were being drafted to attract more graduates into the army.